- Gabriel Burns
Georgia State overcame an 0-2 start and could assemble perhaps the best season in school history.
The Panthers sit at 5-3 overall, with a 4-1 mark in conference play. One win in the final three games would give GSU a bowl berth. Two wins would make for the most wins in school history.
Coach Shawn Elliott’s squad opened the season with a thud, upset 17-10 in its home opener against quarterback Treon Harris and Tennessee State. It traveled to Happy Valley next, getting thrashed 56-0 against Penn State.
The Panthers shut out Charlotte 28-0, but momentum stalled when its second home game against Memphis was canceled as an effect of Hurricane Irma. It forced GSU into playing four consecutive road contests, and a 51-day stretch without taking the field in its new stadium.
Yet that didn’t derail them. The Panthers had their best offensive performance in a 47-37 shootout with Louisiana-Monroe. Quarterback Conner Manning and receiver Penny Hart set school records, and the Panthers crossed the .500 mark for the first time in 2017.
“We’re just a really resilient team,” Hart said at the time. “We had to learn who we were. A lot of different players, different coaches, different staff. You have to get acclimated. So the first two games, you have to try to learn as quick as you can to understand who you are and what you want to do with the season.”
Troy crashed GSU back to earth by blowing them out in their return home; a loss Elliott called “demoralizing.” But the Panthers bounced back again, defeating South Alabama on a short week and avoiding an upset to arch-rival Georgia Southern last weekend.
GSU has shown the apt for making quick adjustments. After an embarrassing 2-for-5 performance in the red zone against the Trojans, the Panthers were a perfect 3-for-3 five days later. Elliott’s group manages to avoid the same inconsistencies – a promising sign for a first-year coach.
It’s made for one of the more unique 5-3 seasons you’ll find. A bowl game is a near lock, but the Panthers have had their eyes on a bigger prize.
“I really want to win the Sun Belt championship,” said defensive back Bryan Williams, who tied the school record for interceptions in a career and season. “That’s something I’d really embrace. But as a team, we have to take things day-by-day, week-by-week, to give us the opportunity to play good on Saturdays.”
A share of the Sun Belt title is within striking distance. GSU faces Appalachian State – also 4-1 in conference play – sandwiched between Texas State and Idaho, two bottom feeders. Winning out means passing the Mountaineers and securing at least a share of second place. Troy also is 4-1, but won the head-to-head with GSU.
Arkansas State is the lone unbeaten Sun Belt team. It closes with South Alabama, Texas State, Louisiana-Monroe and Troy. The aforementioned three will present less of a challenge, but the last game mathematically prevents GSU from winning the conference outright, assuming neither team is upset along the way.
Regardless of how it wraps up, 2017 has been an encouraging year for the program in Elliott’s first year. It certainly won’t hurt as a recruiting pitch, either.